Thursday, February 5, 2015

how i weaned off my antidepressant

Y'all have been so kind in responding to my last post about why it was the right choice for me to take an antidepressant.

Here's what I feel like pretty much all the time these days.  :)

And sometimes even like this!!

Prior to taking one, and even while I was taking the sertraline, my primary concerns were twofold:

1)  Dependence.  I'm not interested in chemical dependence of any kind, be it illicit or prescribed.

2)  Muting of natural feelings.  I was worried that I would feel like a zombie, or that my natural highs would be as blunted as my natural lows needed to be at that point.

#2 ended up not being a problem at all.  I felt calm and placid, but I was still able to laugh riotously or be brought to joyful tears by something beautiful or touching.  So, I no longer have that concern for myself.  I know that others have had the problem of emotional numbness, but it's important to remember that each body and brain has such individual chemistry that a lot of this can only be ascertained by trial and error.

#1 was what eventually brought me to the point of wanting to taper off the medication.  I wanted it to be a short-term help, until I got organized with an arsenal of natural remedies that could support my emotions.  So, while I was taking the sertraline, I researched and researched.  I consulted with my herbalist.  I talked to my doctor.  And this is what I came up with:

1:  Exercise/Sunlight/Fresh Air

Endorphins are not a joke!  They are your body's best natural drug.  I started the Couch to 5K program when Todd turned one in May, and I haven't looked back.  I have slacked off some and had to start back over several times, but the benefits of jogging are huge for me.  It's both physical and emotional:  I feel really good about myself for doing something positive for my health, and I have the actual physical boost of the endorphins.  I have to do pretty vigorous exercise to get a good rush.  I like to exercise outside as much as possible.  Nice fresh air and natural light also help me feel balanced.  I try to jog three times a week and take the kids for a good long walk twice a week.  I'm wanting to get back into a weekly yoga class as well, and I'm looking forward to hiking with the kids once Todd gets a little bit older and more steady.

2:  Balanced Diet

I won't say too much about this one, except:  a lot of sugar and junk makes me feel like crap about myself, and just like crap in general (again, both a physical and an emotional effect).  These are the dietary principles I strive (somewhat imperfectly) to follow, and I try to emphasize protein and fat over carbs.  I try not to get crazy about it, but I know I feel better when I eat better.  I have been posting weekly meal plans for awhile, if you're interested.  Too much caffeine makes me irritable and sleepless, as well, so I try to limit to one cup of coffee per day, before noon.

3:  Good Sleep

I am lucky in that I have never had trouble sleeping.  Unless I have too much caffeine in the afternoon or evening (see above).  But I do try to be in bed by ten or eleven each night.  Also, magnesium before bed helps me relax (see below).

4:  5-HTP (or St. John's Wort)

This was the single biggest supplement help I took while weaning from the antidepressant.  5-HTP is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin and melatonin in the body.  When you take it, you're basically giving your body more of the raw materials to make the neurotransmitters that lead to balance.  I took 50 mg twice a day, morning and night, for well over six months.  It's important NOT to take 5-HTP while you are still on any SSRI medication, as it can seriously mess up your brain chemistry to have both going at once.  St. John's Wort is another good herbal option (but is not one that I took), however, it's important to note that you should not take 5-HTP and St. John's Wort together.

5:  Vitamin D3

Basically, what can't Vitamin D do?  Your body uses it for everything.  Immune system, creation of hormones, regulating neurotransmitters.  There is a reason people get more depressed when the sun (the main natural source of Vitamin D for our bodies) is out less during the winter.  Vitamin D deficiency has definitely been linked to mild depression.  I take 5000 IU (5 drops of 1000 IU per drop) daily.  I just had my Vitamin D levels tested, though, and despite that level of supplementation, they were still borderline low!  So I've gone up to 6000 IU per day and am being retested in a few weeks.  It's important that you take D3, as it is best absorbed by the body.

6:  Fermented Cod Liver Oil

Really, this could be any fish oil.  The omega-3 acids in fish oil have a direct link to raised serotonin.  I choose to take fermented cod liver oil because it has a bunch of other benefits too.    Actually, the whole family takes it!  Here's my method on how we get it down, because it doesn't taste great.

7:  Magnesium

I'm a huge fan of magnesium - and did you know that most of us are deficient?  Particularly if you take supplemental calcium, you are probably lacking magnesium.  If you feel anxious, exhausted, have muscles spasms, cramps, or twitches, you probably need more magnesium.  And it's really not going to hurt you to take it.  (I used to get eyelid twitches all the time before I started taking it.)  Magnesium has been used to treat major depression.  It works on the neurotransmitter level by guarding the neuron from excess calcium and glutamate, which are excitatory and can eventually cause cell death.  It also reduces stress and brings on a feeling of relaxation.  I love to drink it at night before bed.  It makes me feel all warm and soft.  I take this brand, which tastes absolutely delicious as an added benefit.

8:  Kava Kava  

This was given to me by the herbalist in case of extreme irritability.  Kava kava is a root that has been used in the South Pacific for centuries.  They make it into a drink and take it ritually.  I just take a little bit of powder in water.  This is not to be taken regularly.  I have taken it maybe two or three times.  It gives you an immediate feeling of relaxation and being kind of "blissed out."  It works on the central nervous system, and as a muscle relaxant.

9:  Skullcap

Skullcap was recommended by the herbalist as well, and she mixed me up an herbal tea of skullcap, motherwort, and passionflower, with rose petals and lavender for flavor.  Together, we named my blend "Letting Go," which I think is really beautiful.  Skullcap is great for anxiety, and that feeling of wanting to crawl out of your skin.

10:  Motherwort

Motherwort is an herb that helps you feel safe and secure (like sitting in your mother's lap).  It does not numb your mind or cause sleepiness, just a release from anxiety.

11:  Passionflower

Passionflower is the final active herb in my anxiety/depression-reducing tea.  It's good for that feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious because you are exhausted from the demands of life.  I get that feeling a lot.  :)

Those are the best tools I have encountered for helping quell my natural anxiety, irritability, stress, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed.  The ones I take daily are fermented cod liver oil, Vitamin D3, and magnesium.  I also incorporate exercise, fresh air, sunlight, good food and drink, and good sleep into my life daily!  I take my herbal tea sometimes, when I feel stressed.  The kava kava is for very acute moments only.  The 5-HTP I would probably start again if I began having extended feelings of being low and depressed.

I know that this post is long and involved, but I hope it can help someone who is ready to transition to a more natural way of managing your moods.  Believe me, I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking pharmaceuticals to manage depression.  But I know I was wishing I could find a more concise place that all of this was listed when I was ready to try something different.  Love and peace to you all!

[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 2/3/15, Real Food Wednesday 2/4/15, and The HomeAcre Hop 2/5/15.]


Julie said...

This post is a good reminder for all of us about the basics (and above basics) that can help you feel like your true self all the time. Loved reading this.

I don't know if I've told you about this but I've taken curcumin, which is a concentrated form of turmeric, for close to 2 years now. I initially started taking it for rheum. arthritis relief (which it did - shockingly well), and then continued taking it because when I stopped I noticed massive change in my mood. That's when I discovered it's also known for its anti-depressant abilities! Thought I would share.

Emily said...

How cool to know about turmeric! I have seen research that theorizes that depression can be an inflammatory disease of the brain, similar to how RA is acting in the joints and body, so that makes a ton of sense! I think it's why omega-3's help with depression, too.

Heidi @ Pint Size Farm said...

Interesting! Just curious, do you have to continue taking all the new supplements or can you eventually wean off those as well. Thanks for sharing at the HomeAcre hop.

Emily said...

Heidi -

I take magnesium, FCLO, and Vitamin D every single day because of their nutritional value above and beyond helping with depression. I weaned off the 5-HTP after six months or so. I still drink the tea when I'm feeling stressed, but not daily. Kava Kava is never meant to be a daily supplement and I have only ever taken it extremely sporadically. Hope that helps!